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San Bernardino County









John Brown, Sr., was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, December 22, 1917, and when a boy started west to realize the dreams and fancies of youth. He stayed awhile in St. Louis, Missouri, then began rafting on the Mississippi river, and went to New Orleans. While on a voyage to Galveston he was shipwrecked and returned to Fort Leavenworth by the Red River route. He was at the battle of San Jacinto, and saw General Santa Ana when first taken prisoner. He remained two years at Fort Leavenworth, and went to the Rocky mountains and for fourteen years hunted and trapped from the headwaters of the Columbia and Yellowstone rivers, along the mountain streams south as far as the Comanche country in northern Texas, with such mountaineers and trappers as James W. Waters, V. J. Herring, Kit Carson, Alexander Godey, Joseph Bridger, Bill Williams, the Bents, the Subletts and others of equal fame. He engaged sometimes as a free trapper and at other times with the Hudson Bay and other fur companies, hunting the grizzly bear, buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, mountain sheep, and trapping the cunning beaver, among the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Sioux, Cherokees, Apaches, Navajos, Utes, Comanches, and other Indian tribes.

He helped to build Fort Laramie, Fort Bent, Fort Bridger and several others to protect themselves from hostile Indians. This period is hastened over, for the bear and Indian encounters and hairbreadth escapes with the above named hunters, would fill a volume fully as interesting and thrilling as Washington Irving’s “Captain Bonneville” or “Kit Carson’s Travels.” Suffice it to say that such brave and interpid(sic) hunters and adventurers as Mr. Brown and his companions served as guides for General John C. Fremont across the Rocky mountains, and had he adhered more closely to their advice he would not have ventured in dead of winter to cross this precipitous range where he lost so many of his men and animals in the deep snow, those surviving suffering untold agonies. Still General Fremont has gone down in history as the great Pathfinder with but very little aid of those intrepid mountaineers who preceded him and who showed him the paths to take, and which to avoid.

The gold fever reached the mountaineers in 1849. Messrs. Brown, Waters, Lupton, and White “fitted out” their prairie schooners and joined one of the immigrant trains bound for the land of gold. They spent the 4th of July, 1849, in Salt Lake City, and arrived at Sutter’s Fort, September 15, 1849, and began mining on the Calaveras river. In November, Mr. Brown moved to Monterey, and with Waters and Godey opened the St. John’s Hotel and livery stable at San Juan Mission. Here he was elected justice of the peace. His health failing him, he was advised by his family physician, Dr. Ord, to seek a milder climate in southern California. In April, 1852, he went with his family to San Francisco, and boarded the schooner “Lydia,” Captain Haley commander, and after a week’s voyage down the coast, landed at San Pedro, where he engaged Sheldon Stoddard to move him to San Bernardino, where he arrived and settled in the “old Fort,” May 1, 1852. He purchased from Marshall Hunt his log cabin for fifty dollars, located on the west side of the fort, next door neighbor to Sheldon Stoddard, Captain Jefferson Hunt and Edward Daley.

On April 26, 1853, the legislature of California passed the act creating the county of San Bernardino. By section 5 of said act, Mr. Brown was appointed with Colonel Isaac Williams, David Seeley, and H. G. Sherwood, a board of commissioners to designate the election precincts in the county of San Bernardino for the election of officers at the first election and to appoint the inspectors of election at the several precincts designated, to receive the returns of election, and to issue certificates of election to the first officers.

In 1854, Mr Brown moved with his family to Yucipa (sic), where he went into the stock business and farming, returning to San Bernardino in1857, where he lived, taking an active interest in all public affairs for the welfare and progress of his home.

In 1862, seeing the necessity for an outlet to southern Utah and Arizona for the productions of San Bernardino county he, with Judge Henry M. Willis and George L. Tucker, procured a charter from the legislature for a toll road through the Cajon Pass, which he built and kept open for eightee years, thus contributing materially to the business and growth of San Bernardino.

In 1862 he went to Fort Moharie, hear where Needles is now located, and established a ferry across the Colorado river, still further enchancing (sic) the business of the city and county. He was a liberal contributor to the telegraph fund when assistance was required to connect the city with the outside world, and favored reasonable encouragement to the railroad so as to place San Bernardino on the trans-continental line. At his own expense he enclosed the public square (now Pioneer Park) with a good stout fence.

In 1873-4 he delivered the United States mail to the miners in Bear and Holcomb valleys, when the snow was three and four feet deep in places, thus showing that he still retained that daring and intrepid disposition he acquired in the Rocky mountains.

In his later years he devoted much of his time to writing a book entitled, “Medium of the Rockies,” in which he narrates many thrilling incidents of his adventurous life, and some chapters on spiritual and advanced thought. Born near Plymouth Rock, on the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, he seems to have partaken of their religious freedom and liberality of thought, and his years among the grandeur and sublimity of the Rocky mountains aided in developing an intense live of nature, the handiwork of the great Creator. Here, as a child of nature, among the fastnesses of the mountain forests, or among the crags and peaks he saw the Great Ruler in the clouds and heard him in the winds. Without any education except that derived from the broad and liberal books of nature, he was able to read in the faces of his fellowmen those ennobling sentiments of love, truth, justice, loyalty and humanity. His spirit seemed to be dedicated “to the cause that lacks assistance, to the wrongs that need resistance, the future in the distance, and the good that he could do.”

As old age began creeping on and many of his old friends were passing away, and the activities of life had to be transferred to others, Mr. Brown joined George Lord, William Heap, R. T. Roberts, W. F. Holcomb, George Miller, Taney Woodward, May B. B. Harris, David Seeley, Sydney P. Waite, Marcus Katz, Lucas Hoagland, Henry M. Willis, his old Rocky mountain companion, James W. Waters, his son, John Brown, Jr., and others and organized the San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers, believing that many hours could still be pleasantly passed by those whose friendship had grown stronger and stronger as the years rolled by, and thus live the sentiment of the poet:

“When but few years of life remain,

Tis life renewed to talk, to laugh them o’er again.”

Mr. Brown raised a large family, six daughters: Mrs. Matilda Waite, Mrs. Laura Wogencraft Thomas, Mrs. Louisa Waters, Mrs. Sylvia Davenport, Mrs. Mary Dueber, and Mrs. Emma Rouse Royalty; and four sons: John, Joseph, James and Newton Brown.

He outlived all of his Rocky mountain companions, all of the commissioners appointed to organize San Bernardino county and all of the first officers of the county. He remained alone to receive the tender greetings of his many friends who held him not only with high esteem and respect but with veneration and love. He was greatly devoted to the Pioneer Society; its pleasant associations were near and dear to his heart. Although feeble with declining years, he appeared at the meeting of the society on Saturday, April 15, 1899, and discharged his duties as president, and on the following Thursday, April 20, 1899, at seven o’clock P.M., at the home of his daughter Laura, his spirit departed to that new and higher sphere of existence he so fondly looked to while on earth. A large concourse of friends attended the funeral of their old friend from the Brown homestead, corner of D and Sixth streets, the residence of his son John. The funeral services were conducted by Mrs. J. A. Marchant, superintendent of the First Spiritual Society of San Bernardino, and also by Rev. A. J. White, of the Presbyterian Church of Colton. The choir was under the direction of Mrs. H. M. Barton and Mrs. Lizzie Heap Keller. The floral offerings were profuse; one emblematic of the Pioneers, a tribute from the Pioneer Society.

According to direction from the deceased frequently given by him to his children, the casket and everything else necessary for interment, was like his character, white as the mountain snow. The honorary pall-bearers were among his oldest friends then living—Sheldon Stoddard, W. F. Holcomb, R. T. Roberts, Lucas Hoagland, J. A. Kelting, and Lewis Jacobs, and the active pall-bearers were J. W. Waters, Jr., George Miler, Randolph Seeley, De La M. Woodward, H. M. Barton and Edward Daley, Jr.


Transcribed 5-26-12 Marilyn R. Pankey.

Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 433-437, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles,  Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  Marilyn R. Pankey.